The key to solving your time management problems lies not in a long list of rigid rules and tips, but in completely rethinking your approach to work.
The average person loses just over two hours of their working day to unnecessary interruptions, resulting in difficulties meeting deadlines and contributing significantly to work-related stress.
Time-poor people are consumed by the idea that they can manage their time more efficiently by writing to-do lists and breaking up their day into half-hour blocks rather than focusing on the root of the problem, according to Sean McLoughney, author of Slave to the Clock: Master of Time.
“We cannot manage time, but what we need to do is manage ourselves and those around us and let time take care of itself. We lose about 2.1 hours a day on non-value interruptions. We are not talking about people who are on the doss. These are people who are very busy doing their jobs but yet two hours are lost,” he says.
Find the source of interruptions
If you really want to solve your time-management problem, discovering the source of those interruptions is the first step. An honest time audit, including all coffee and smoke breaks, brief chats with colleagues, time spent reading emails or answering calls from family and friends, and anything else that interrupts actual work will help to pinpoint the major problem areas.
“A time audit will not fix anything for you, but it will reveal where your problems are. Then you have a choice – do I want to spend two hours doing something that I enjoy doing or two hours being interrupted? It is a bit of an eye-opener,” says McLoughney.
Once you have identified what or who is wasting your time, the next step is to take back that time lost by exercising more control over your working day.
Control what you can influence
“People will say there is not an awful lot that you can do about interruptions, but there are some things that we have influence over and others we don’t. Work on the things you can influence. Some time-wasting activities that eat up time such as reading emails or talking to family or friends on the phone are things you can eliminate,” he says.
That doesn’t mean that you should approach work like a robot, however. It is important to take breaks and to interact with your co-workers, but to do so at appropriate times.
“We do need that interaction, some more than others, but you have a choice. Do you want to spend two hours being interrupted? Or do you want to get the job done, so that you can leave at 5pm rather than 7pm? Do you want to be under more pressure or stress because the deadline is approaching and have more and more work to do, or do you want to get ahead of the deadline and have the work done?”
First and foremost, you must set a clear goal that will give you an incentive to follow through.
“If you have something to aim for — getting home an hour earlier to see your kids, etc — you have something to work towards opposed to ‘I just want to be more effective in my job’. Nobody improves with those sort of bland goals,” concludes McLoughney.